New Federal Law Will Allow Victims and Prosecutors to Go After Websites That Promote Sex Trafficking

Senate joins House in passing law that strips websites of immunity for knowingly running sex trafficking ads

The U.S. Senate today passed a bill that will allow the victims of human trafficking to sue websites that knowingly assisted in the crime and will give prosecutors a new tool to criminally go after these websites. The legislation will now go to the President, who is expected to sign it.

Estimates by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children show that the vast majority of child sexual exploitation occurs online. But currently, the Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act shields websites from liability for their role in assisting sex traffickers. Backpage.com has been the most notorious and active of these sites that facilitate the trafficking of children.

"For a very long time, Backpage has been making a tremendous profit from sexual abuse of countless women and children. It is imperative that Backpage is held accountable for its nefarious actions—that is justice for its victims," said Iryna, a survivor-advocate.

“This tremendous victory for child victims of sexual exploitation today overcame powerful, well-funded opposition. We thank Senators Portman and Blumenthal and their bipartisan group of 67 Senate cosponsors for their dedication in seeing this through,” said Carol Smolenski, Executive Director of ECPAT-USA. “We are proud of their work, and proud to be a part of this effort. There is much more to do to end child sexual exploitation in this country and around the globe. But today we can celebrate a win for justice, and a win for bipartisanship, and a win for victimized children who need their rights protected.”

This new law “will give survivors access to the civil remedies that they deserve, produce more prosecutions of bad actor websites, more convictions, and more predators behind bars. Because of this legislation, fewer businesses will enter the sex trade, and fewer victims will ever be sold," according to a statement issued by the House sponsors, Representatives Ann Wagner, Joyce Beatty, Mimi Walters, and Carolyn Maloney, who thanked ECPAT-USA and other leading advocacy organizations for their input and expertise.

ECPAT USA has been an early advocate for trafficking victims seeking their day in court. These efforts have been repeatedly stymied by websites relying on a legal loophole in the law referred to as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. The bill passed today clarifies that Internet service providers may not rely on the communications decency act when they knowingly enable trafficking.  

In addition, the legislation adds a new tool for criminal prosecutors by expanding an existing federal prostitution statute to cover online sex trafficking.  
 

 

About ECPAT-USA

ECPAT-USA is the leading anti-child trafficking policy organization in the United States seeking to end the commercial, sexual exploitation of children through awareness, advocacy, policy, and legislation. ECPAT-USA is a member of ECPAT International, a network of organizations in more than 90 countries with one common mission: to eliminate the sexual exploitation of children around the world. For more information, visit ecpatusa.org.